Friday, August 14, 2015

Unnatural Shocks

In Hamlet's soliloquy "To be or not to be" we find the phrase "the thousand Natural shocks that flesh is heir to." In this week's missive, I would like to focus a briefly on the reverse of the medal, that is, "unnatural shocks." A distinction here seems, well, only natural.

Now what Hamlet was on about was the fact that life by its very existence entails any number of untoward and unexpected happenings. These occurrences can range anywhere from volcanic ash tumbling down on you to being infected with the Ebola virus, or from fighting off a shark to the Kardashians crashing your very private party (the last example is not mutually exclusive).

What I would like to address, however, are those occurrences that, however unexpectedly, do not happen naturally. They can be traced to our actions rather than an outside source such as an exploding volcano, a jungle disease, or swimming with sharks and/or celebrities. In other words, our fault.

Three unnatural shocks come to mind.

The first, and by far the most dangerous, are those religions that encourage a "me only" approach, with any other belief being beyond the pale and subject to scorn, banishment, or even death by any number of ghastly ways. In early days, this approach might have provided some comfort in enduring a life that was, as Thomas Hobbes' wrote in The Leviathan, "nasty, brutish and short." But this is the present, and I find Voltaire's' words more to the point: "The first clergyman was the first rascal who met the first fool."

Secondly, and almost as worrying, a medieval outfit such as the National Rifle Association continues to exist and have enormous influence on the American political scene. It is high time this  organization should cease being an unnatural shock and fade into nothingness.

Finally, we as electors in a democracy, have an unfortunate habit of electing the inept or oafish into positions of power, thereby bringing their jurisdictions into a state of fiscal collapse. Where ineptitude is concerned, step forward Greece and Ontario. Where the election of an oaf is concerned, look no further then the Trump candidacy in the U.S.

"Elect Trump?" you say. "No way we would elect such an oaf!"

"Why not?" I would reply. "You did it in 2000."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Inventing Inventions

The story of inventions is a long one, complete with the epic (the wheel) the barbaric (the rack) the silly but enjoyable (the hula hoop) and the challenging (chess). I am sure astute readers could give many more examples. As humans, inventing is what we do.

In my opinion, however, two inventions stand out for their simplicity and utility. Moreover, they have been adopted world-wide with a speed that astounds. I have entitled them The Trident and The Easy Turn.

First, The Easy Turn.

When driving, making a left hand turn at a busy intersection can be difficult, given that oncoming traffic must cease before the turn can be attempted.* In addition, there could well be an impatient driver behind you who has not needed to make such a turn, but is nevertheless captive until you succeed in your endeavour. Worse, no end of road rage incidents have resulted from this impasse.

The Easy Turn resolves all this by creating a short extra lane set aside for just such a purpose. Suddenly, you are no longer the cause of fury on the part of the driver just behind you -- he remains in his own lane, and proceeds happily on his way. In addition, a further bonus sometimes appears in the form of a secondary invention called "the little green arrow" which, when shining, allows for an advance start on making the turn.


Now, The Trident.

This invention is commonly seen in banks and airports, where an initial single line debouches into several, each leading to a teller (in a bank) or a baggage handler and ticket taker (in an airport). Thus you are not now faced with what became known as "the line-up" gamble, where you tried to pick the line most efficient and fast-moving, and where you invariably found yourself confronting glaciation. Now, if there was one hold up at one point, the others were still operative and the line was moving as fast as it could.

Again wonderful. And a salute to those who first thought of these techniques. In my view, this is Nobel Prize stuff.

In conclusion, I would be remiss if I did not also pay homage to one of the world's most esteemed inventors, Alexander Graham Bell, and his concept of the telephone. If I recall correctly, the first telephonic words were spoken on March 10, 1876, from Dr. Bell to his assistant Thomas Watson: "Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you. Someone is offering us a free Bahama cruise."

Or words to that effect.


* This would be a right turn in some wayward jurisdictions, given an unaccountable desire to drive on the left side of the road. - Ed.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Election Selection

Knowing that an election was in the offing, the Little Sisters of Poverty and Pain had invited me to give a short address on the topic on behalf of the Board of Directors for the convent. Since I was the Board, and its only representative, I accepted. I have done this sort of thing before, the last time acceding to a request to give my views on Pope Francis and his rather kind remarks concerning atheism.*

I began with a description of the three main contenders and the party they represented. First, the Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper. I held that he was, in his political stance, somewhat right of centre, with a focus on financial stability, a balanced budget, and turning tax dollars back to the public when the public accounts merited it. The best example here was the creation of Tax Free Savings Accounts.

Mr. Harper is also a believer in a strong military, and, a bit unfortunately, a strong believer in opaqueness rather than transparency in  things governmental. There is as well as some surprising ineptitude in personnel, particularly regarding staff and Cabinet selection.

The Liberals are led by Justin Trudeau, son of the esteemed (by some) Pierre Trudeau. Unlike Mr. Harper, Mr. Trudeau has not been at this game for long, and hence has made some blunders that echo Hermann Hesse's words, "Experience is a good school, but the fees are high." Think of the phrase "Budgets balance themselves" or "Eve Adams will I'm sure represent this riding well".**

In terms of where he leans, I see him jumping back and forth between right and left, as circumstances dictate. Not a bad strategy, but it can be annoying to a voter who might want a more stable view of things.

With Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the New Democratic Party, there is no such doubt as to where he stands -- left of centre. But not as much as you might expect. Yes, he would be loathe to return monies to taxpayers that could be used for social needs, actual or not, but I can inform you that Mr, Mulcair has used the terms "budget" and balanced" in the same sentence. Interesting, and food for thought.

There is, it must be admitted, a fourth member in the upcoming fray, Elizabeth May of the Green Party. One seat, and that is a statistic that is unlikely to change. Or if it does, I rather think it, (and she) would disappear. Hence, good sisters, concentrate upon the three first named.

Now in conclusion, I should like to point out that this triumvirate is somewhat unusual, certainly when put against certain Republicans trying to trump each other as they run for president in the USA. All three Canadians are fundamentally decent, all are intelligent, and, wonder of wonders, all appear not to be tied to the stake of ideology. No Olivia Chows, David Suzukis or Maud Barlows here. And all would make a good Prime Minister (although Justin would at least initially need sound advisors). More importantly, to quote Matthew Arnold's line about purpose, these three endeavour "To see life steadily, and see it whole." 

Other countries should be so lucky.


* I should note that the nuns themselves are atheists, but gladly continue to minister to the poor and unwanted. It's just what they do.-- L.S.S.

** The riding association turfed Ms Adams and her parachute out on the first ballot. --Ed.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Martyrdom Misnomer

I am rather surprised that no writers on the vicious attacks launched on various citizenries by the likes of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have fallen into the trap of confusing the seeking of death by suicide bomb with martyrdom.

Martyrdom has nothing to do with such attacks -- particularly against women and children -- and should be called for what they really are: acts of murder.

The Qur'an is explicit here, and I quote from Allah (via Mohammed)  "And do not kill yourselves...and whosoever does that with aggressive inequity I will make them suffer in Hell
fire". "(24-30, 4).

Now that's a long way from the paradise on offer from the imams and mullahs that are encouraging suicide bombers to act. But these august figures don't rely on the Qur'an for the motivation, but on the Hadith, or the "sayings" of Mohammed as noted by his adherents. There's where we find the promised Eden, along with seventy-two virgins. (I mean, after the first seven, wouldn't you be seeking the embrace of a pro?)  But that preposterous nonsense aside, there is an even better reason to call in doubt the whole "martyrdom" strategy.

Having checked with my copy of the O.E.D., I learn that a martyr is one who continues to espouse a cause, knowing there is a risk. That risk was often death. But it is important, crucially important, to note that at no time does the believer seek torment or death. It is the passive voice, not the active, that is dominate here. The martyr never acts, but is acted upon.

Therefore, it can be safely argued that all the suicide bombers employed by the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and numerous twigs from these heinous branches are not martyrs at all. Soldiers fighting for a cause, even brave in a certain way, but not martyrs. A bit of thought on the matter, and familiarity with the Qur'an, would have helped the prospective bomber to perhaps decide there were better things to do.

Much better things.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rap and the Pan-Am Games

In reviewing the last several reports, I have decided that this one will deal with something lighter, a short trip if you will into the semi-inane.  

I do this with some trepidation. My source of information has been accurate in some past instances, and way off the mark in others, primarily because she is way too young to be as cynical as she is. So using her stuff is a bit of a crap shoot, but the material that follows, admittedly leaning to the bizarre, does ring true in an odd way.

It appears that a meeting of the senior organizers of the Pan-Am Games currently being held in Toronto was recently held. My informant was at this meeting, something that rang true in that she was a good minute-taker who was also wise enough to keep her mouth shut when Exalted Ones were discussing things.

After they congratulated themselves on the games success to date* the conversation turned to who might be called upon to give "star power" to the closing ceremonies, the type of power that Canada's Cirque de Soleil brought to the opening of the Games.

One member said that it was important to keep a Canadian focus where the closing ceremonies were concerned. All agreed. Another point was raised by one of the South American members that there should be an appeal to a more younger audience, to keep interest high for future Games. Again, agreement.

After a lively discussion, someone suggested that a Canadian rapper might fit the bill. My informant then broke protocol, and was going to make a suggestion here, but was ignored by the group. I mean, she was only twenty-something. What would she know of current stars in this area?

At this point the Chair suggested the perfect choice, the Canadian rapper Kanye West. My informant frantically waved her hand , hoping for recognition from the Chair. It was not forthcoming. The decision stood.

"You see," my informant said, "They vaguely knew that there was a Canadian rapper that could fit the bill -- "

"That would be Drake", I stated.

"No flies on you, are they? But yes, I'm certain that Drake was meant, but the only name they could recall was Kanye West, who is definitely an American, although one member also recalled that he came with some group called Kardashian."

"You 're kidding."

"I could not make this up. This is what happens when sixty-year-old men try to be twenty again. Make fools of themselves."

"Not entirely. You have to admit that after digging themselves into a hole, they dug themselves out rather neatly. Or at least the Chair did. Not something a twenty-year old would be likely to do."

"What do you mean?"

"The Chair, realizing the gaffe, made sure when he spoke publicly that such a choice was all part of a plan to emphasize that these were the Pan-American Games, involving both Americas, not just Canada. Therefore, to ask an American to close the ceremonies was both fair and just.  Using his experience, he had called upon what is known as The Juice Strategy.

"What the hell is that?"

"Ah, so speaks the twenty-something. It is simple, my dear. When you are confronted with a lemon, make lemonade. Here endeth the lesson."


* Media coverage has been adequate save for television, which spends far too much time discussing events when what the public wants is to see is the events themselves.

Friday, July 10, 2015

I Am My Self

I remember reading somewhere the adage, "If it's to be, it's up to me."* It is this little saying that I hope will get me through the next few paragraphs that deal with a rather complex and thorny issue.

The issue? Nothing other than the creation in people of a sense of dependency, further exacerbated by a feeling of entitlement to whatever largesse is on offer. Such largesse may take several forms such as monetary stipends, land use, housing rentals and even travel expenses to attend meetings that invariably push for more of the same.

Now my aim here is not to name names or castigate certain individuals who profit from this at the expense of those less connected --- this is the job of the media and (often more effective) auditors general. Rather I wish to get at the heart of all this, the loss of a person's selfhood when that person accepts rewards for something not earned.

This applies to many situations. One of the more stark examples is the effect of the Federal Indian Act.

On a First Nations reserve, for instance, the band members all receive monetary assistance as part of a prior treaty negotiation.** Individual members need do nothing else but exist, although one would hope they would use the funds wisely in terms of housing, health care, education and the like. Some do, some don't, and one can say that there has been a kind of gain.

 But what has been lost?

In a nutshell, a sense of self. Without earning the right to use and enjoy such largesse, the sense of who one really is, over time, withers into nothingness. The person involved has become a hollow shell, often turning to drugs and alcohol.

Put more bluntly, if you haven't earned something, the acceptance of it will have terrible inner consequences. It is this factor that is often missing from articles on the topic.

In contrast, turn to the portrait of First Nations peoples as described in Joseph Boyden's novel The Orenda. There each tribal member has a profound sense of self, and honour is only possible to achieve from effort, effort that benefits not just the individual, but also the tribe. If any gifts are given, those gifts have been earned. My wish here is that certain Federal officials and Ministers read that novel carefully, and then act accordingly.*** This would not only be the right thing to do, but their sense of self would grow immeasurably. It is as if each M.P. would take to heart the title of this particular missive, "If it's to be, it's up to me."

And yes, action in this sensitive area would certainly produce howls of outrage and self-pity, but as the Scots so well put it, "Self-pity never boiled a haddock."


* Sentence taken from Ben Bova's sci-fi novel, Moonrise. --Ed.

** Whether the band members actually receive what is owed them lies under the purview of the band Chief. In certain cases, this has led to scandals involving mis-appropriation and outright fraud. I hasten to add, however, that this affliction goes well beyond First Nations peoples. -- L.S.S.

*** This would require repealing The Indian Act, a complex business. So is much of life. Just get on with it. -- L.S.S.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Mantra For Recession

Recently, some very close friends of mine had to cancel a long-planned trip to Greece, for the reason that the hotel in Athens where they had booked accommodation had gone out of business. The staff had simply left en masse, apparently to return to long neglected homesteads in the country where olive trees still grew, and the oil from those olives was still a highly marketable thing.

This little anecdote brought to mind the following statement from Tommy Douglas, the father of Canada's universal health care* system:

"A recession is when your neighbour has to tighten his belt. A depression is when you have to tighten your belt, and a panic is when you have no belt, and your pants fall down."

Today, Greece is in a panic, and a number of countries are watching others tighten their belts, or are tightening their own. Which begs the question -- how did this come about?

Pondering these two queries over a very good vino barolo, it was not difficult to identify the culprits at the bottom of the mess. To wit: greed and incompetence.

The horror story of the Great Depression of the Thirties well illustrates both qualities at work. Greed in the purchase of shares with money you did not have (the 'on margin' aspect of the market) in order to make money without risking any, and incompetence to thinking that all this would work out well. At a later date, the sub-prime mortgage nonsense was also illustrative of the two qualities at work, mainly (but not solely) on the part of banks.

So it is with Greece, where way too many public servants argued for and got good-paying jobs, excellent benefits and gold-plated pensions while forgetting that all this was being laid at an ever-diminishing number of taxpayers. And like a Ponzi scheme, eventually the whole thing collapsed, and the call went out to the European Union for a bailout. And austerity. And a further bailout. And so on. And so forth.

The only thing that is crystal clear in all this -- greed and incompetence are terrible things when wedded together. And to correct the situation is going to demand wisdom. Here the words of former political commentator Walter Lippman come to mind: "It requires wisdom to understand wisdom; the music is nothing if the audience is deaf."

Does Greece have such wisdom?

Or, for that matter, Ontario?


* From every sensible American, "Sigh."

Friday, June 26, 2015

Carefree Conversations

Of late, I and my pub mates have grown tired of all the consistent doom and gloom so prevalent in today's media reports. So at last Thursday's get together at The Three Q's we all decided to explore the lighter side of things, and forbade any mention of ebola, ISIS, the wonder of Zimbabwean democracy or, closer to home, gas plants and the valiant and increasingly successful attempt of Ontario to emulate the financial position of Greece.

Present were John Digg, who farms the property next to my own, Alice Deptford, a truly adept economist, and Dr. Phillip Pratt, Head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Toronto, and simply a gem when it comes to an interesting conversation.

And an interesting conversation  was the aim of this evening's outing, along with the proviso that the topics should be of the light-hearted, even fluffy variety.

Once we were ensconced at our table, with pints ordered and fetched by Professor Pratt, Alice began by suggesting that some of the most interesting discussions she had ever had centered around those  things that had one meaning, but could be reached by any number of approaches, whether mathematical, metaphorical, logical or historical.

This seemed to be heading directly into obscurantism, so I asked Alice, "I think some examples might help."

"Second that," said John. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I think," replied Alice, "that I may have described the matter in overly complicated terms. All I meant was that a given topic always has many sides to it, all of them valid, and none of which takes away from its central meaning. So if we have an equation that states that ten plus three is equal to five plus eight, or nine plus four equals six plus seven, it doesn't matter to the end result, that is, thirteen.

"So what you're saying, Alice, is that regardless of the roads taken, providing that individual numbers one to twelve are used, the answer, thirteen, will always be correct."

"You have it. Now if you apply that thinking to the making of, say fettuccini alfredo, you will --- yes, Phillip?"

Dr. Pratt had been unusually quiet through all this, and one wondered just why. Or at least I did.

"There is," Pratt said, "one other aspect to your example. A rather interesting one, if I may be so bold. I note that one equation has not been brought forward for use as an example, to wit, "eleven plus two" is equal to "twelve plus one." Any reason for this, Alice?"

"Yeah. I didn't think of it. Why is this so of interest?"

"Look at the two sides of the equation. Note anything odd?"

Silence around the table until John Digg piped up, "Anagrams. 'Eleven plus two' is an anagram of 'twelve plus one.'" He sat back, took a good draught from his pint, and looked mighty pleased with himself.

"Puts the icing on your cake, Alice, does it not?" I put in.

"That it does. Now take fettuccini alfredo, forget about anagrams and pretend that ......."

And this is why I treasure these little get-togethers.


Friday, June 19, 2015

She: A Progress Report

This year marks a significant historical event -- the signing of the document of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215 by King John of England. The document promised the protection of Church rights, promised protection for barons from illegal imprisonment, promised access to swift justice and -- very important this -- promised limitations to feudal payments to the Crown.

Not referred to at all were the common people, children, and not a word about women. Mind you. some two years later King John reneged on the whole thing, so even its partial acknowledgement of certain rights still had to await more enlightened ages.

In the twenty-first century, all too many women are still awaiting for their rights to be acknowledged. To put a thirteenth century view of women into the vernacular of the twenty-first century, I turn to congresswoman Bella Abzug of New York, who, channelling Theodore Roosevelt, once stated, "Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick."

Now if any woman broke such a mold, to was Ms Abzug, but she has not been alone. Admittedly, the pace of change borders on the glacial, but the following could never have occurred in the thirteenth century:

1) A woman in Gary, Indiana swallows a pill, and terrifies the Pope.

2) A woman becomes a tech "baron' -- Marissa Mayer is now the Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo.

3)A woman wins the Nobel prize -- congratulations to Marie Curie.

4) Women run for high office, get elected to that office, and do very well in running entire countries. Step forward Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel.

There is, of course, some distance to go. Women and girls, trapped in cultural and religious backwaters, are still treated as chattel by insecure males, subject to genital mutilation, "arranged" marriages and, if they stray, are killed for "honourable" reasons. But day after day attempts continue to be made by a variety of good people and organizations to shine light into these dark corners and argue that the best way forward for the male leaders is to cease and desist being sadistic idiots.

Let us so hope, although I did feel a tad discouraged when I ran across this comment from filmmaker and playwright David Mamet, who wrote, "The perfect girlfriend: one who makes love until two in the morning, and then turns into a pizza."

So female advancement will, I'm afraid, have to follow a prescription offered by "Grook" author Piet Hein: "T.T.T."*


*Things take time. -- Ed.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The God Of The Mountain

Fredrich Nietzsche once wrote, "2000 years, and no new God!"

Sorry, Freddy, not entirely true. It has come to my attention that one god, hitherto unknown to me and I suspect a great many others, is certainly active. He/she/it apparently lives in the bowels of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, and is very powerful.

The following incident makes my point. A number of tourists were clambering around  the mountain in question, having a great time. Perhaps too good a time. Four Westerners, two Canadians, a Brit and a Netherlander, for whatever reason, thought it cool to exhibit a bit of nudity. I mean, why not?

Around this time a severe earthquake occurred.

Shortly after this, Malaysian police obtained a court order to hold the offenders for four days, to allow for an investigation into their indecent behaviour.

In many Malaysian minds, however, the earthquake itself had been precipitated by the nude cavorting that had occurred on Kinabalu's slopes. This view was echoed by a Malaysian official who suggested that the quake was a signal that the mountain god was angry at such behaviour. In the words of Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan, they had shown "disrespect to the sacred mountain." A special ritual, he added, will be conducted "to appease the mountain spirit."*

I hasten to add that at no point was any mention made of tectonic plates.

Now what we had in actuality was an act of youthful stupidity, but really no more than that, a point that various consular officials will be making with the Malaysian government. Yet where a strong faith in a disturbed god is concerned, all bets are off. In past ages, the offending four almost certainly been sacrificed to the god in an act of hopeful appeasement and the prevention of future upheavals of the earth. Let us hope that a more sane approach is adopted.

There is, however, no guarantee. As Benjamin Franklin has written, "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."


*If left to the actions of the most committed and ardent believers, that "special ritual" could prove to be harrowing indeed for the offenders. -- L.S.S.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Blatter Is Relieved

Occasionally you win one.

In my last report, I had written that the President of the Federation Internationale de Football Association, (FIFA) Sepp Blatter, would be likely to remain in his recently elected position of President. This in spite of growing concern regarding various forms of bribery and corruption that had  plagued this organization for years.

I am delighted to report that I was wrong.

The Americans, assisted by the Swiss, swooped down and arrested seven of the worst offenders, armed with charges of criminal activity that were likely to stick. The investigation, involving the American Department of Justice, had been going on for some time, so it was not just a case of rumours and further rumours. Suddenly, there were photographs.

Mr. Blatter, perhaps uneasy for the first time, suggested that he had been aware of the investigation, and implied that was one of the instigators of the process. (This would be akin to General Custer, after assessing a certain situation at Little Big Horn, fleeing to the side of Sitting Bull and saying, "let's have at 'em!" Unlikely to have worked then, and certainly wasn't going to work now.) 

Mr. Blatter, in attempting this strategy, was I believe remembering Juan Samaranch, who had successfully fought off similar charges while head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). But Samaranch, or his preferred title "His Excellency", had served with Generalissimo Franco of Spain, and that tutelage had paid off big time.

Mr. Blatter had no such tutor, and when certain pressure was brought to bear, finally agreed to step down,* although he would continue in his position until a new election could be held.
Mind you, there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip, but for now, those who have witnessed the Beautiful Game being dragged through the mud too many times can now take heart.

So it's bye bye Mr. Blatter, and I conclude with the following words from the American writer and poet, Catherynne M. Valente, who might well be speaking not just on the fate of Mr. Blatter, but on the electoral situation in the Province of Ontario: "Never out your faith in a Prince. When you require a miracle, trust in a Witch."


* The likes of Olympic sponsors such as Nike, McDonalds et al were not going to put up with the type of invective that would have been directed at Mr. Blatter by Europe and North America, and by association at them. These firms marketing and product sales would have taken a hit that was a bridge too far. At this point I suspect an offer was made to Mr. Blatter that he could not refuse. -- L.S.S.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Step By Step We Advance

Sometimes it is difficult to raise one's head above the continual media stress on gloom and doom. I understand this -- the negative focus allows for the money-making "positive" ads to shine more brightly -- but occasionally one must reach for examples that point the way to a saner future. 

Here are two examples.

The growth in transparency of things previously kept from sight is heartwarming. Where government is concerned, the role of an independent auditor has increased in power, something that in the public's opinion is a very Good Thing. Such reports from an auditor do much to dispel the darkness cast by kickbacks, deceit, and outright fraud.*

Buttressing an auditor's exposure of financial actions that at time border on idiocy are the actions of the public itself, via that invention that would have been stopped in its tracks had government any sort of strategic planning initiative. I speak, of course, of the smart phone, where countless examples indicate that it is becoming more and more difficult for wrongdoing (often by police forces themselves) to be kept from the public eye. In such cases, the words of Justice William O. Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court ring true: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

To be sure, there exist "Peoples' Paradises" where possession of such a device causes you to literally lose your head, or send you off to a lovely camp in the country to re-learn the joys of serving some glorious president. Yet I believe in time that this will change. The sun is not going to stop shining anytime soon.

Goodness, even that bastion of bribery, the Evil Empire of FIFA, has now come under attack.** Such courageous action recalls those brave prelates that undertook to reform the powerful Catholic Church during the Renaissance, and it is the Church that gives me my second example.

Ireland, ever since a certain saint, without the help of pesticides from Monsanto, drove out the reptiles from the Emerald Isle, has given unwavering support to the Church and all its teachings. Even today, abortions are non-starter.

Yet two days ago, in a binding referendum, the Irish populace voted to allow and sanction same-sex marriage. Two hundred years ago, had such a policy ever been put forward, the perpetrators would have undergone torture eagerly undertaken by the Holy Inquisition and then the convicted sent merrily to a fiery stake. Not so today, and the reaction of the Church was not proclaim a violent response, but to begin a massive sulk.

And the assault on the Church does not stop there. As a recent recipient of the Man Booker prize wrote, "Show me where it says in the Bible 'Purgatory'. Shows me where it says relics, monks, nuns. Show me where it says, 'Pope'"***

Woody Allen, as might be expected, goes further: "Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends."

Step by step we advance.


* At least one auditor, Andre Marin of Ontario, has been so effective that the public in a recent poll gave him massive support. This prompted the Premier, Kathleen Wynne, to indicate to the press that his contract would not be renewed.

** This action actually irritated the Godfather of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, a real first. (Previously, it was anathema to even link his name with the tawdry bribes occurring under his "reign".) Countries in Europe and North America won't be supporting him in his bid for re-election. Won't matter -- Russia, China and most countries in Africa give him their full (and paid for) support. A sad aspect of The Beautiful Game.

***Hilary Mantel in her novel Wolf Hall.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Only In Canada

Canada is truly blessed. At a time when all sorts of mayhem are breaking out here there and everywhere (as the Lennon/McCartney song goes) this lovely country decides not to fall into the pit of acrimony and despair, but rather embrace the inane.

Allow me to elaborate.

In the seas of the Orient, various grumbles and snarls can be heard as countries quarrel over several rock piles deemed "strategic", with the concomitant mobilization of navies (in some cases only a shrimp boat and a dinghy, but still....) and missile launchers pointed every which way.

The border between Ukraine and Russia continues to be a festering mess, with strange soldiers resembling Russians turning up here and there. "Certainly not ours" states Vladimir Putin fervently.

In the Middle East, the sub-humans that comprise the Islamic State continue their savage march through Syria and Iraq destroying priceless historical artefacts, killing all "infidels" and substituting the word 'woman' with the more Islamic designation, 'chattel'. Only the Kurdish Peshmerga cause the sub-humans to retreat -- real soldiers will have that effect.

Those masters of capitalism, the drug cartels in South America and Mexico, continue to flourish, and never mind the ghastly 'collateral damage' wrought on civilians. It is, after all, simply the cost of doing business in order that the United States be well served with the necessary 'uppers' and 'downers'.

As for our American neighbours, the worship of the god named "Gun" continues, sanctioned by a total mis-reading of the Second Amendment of their Constitution and illustrated by a murder rate that is appalling. Add in a black/white divide, and you have an ironic take on that wonderful song from the musical Hairspray, "Good morning, Baltimore!"

And now we come to Canada, which is currently in a state of upheaval.

The issue?

The hiring of a new coach, Mike Babcock, for that paragon of hockey ineptitude, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now I hasten to stress that it wasn't the hiring itself that caused the uproar,* but rather Mr. Babcock's statement that the Leafs were "Canada's team." This is something that every Canadian knows deep in his or her heart, but something you never ever state publicly.

The uproar went coast to coast immediately, and the air was filled with invective and retorts, including dire threats.** Even in Ontario, the continuing horror story of the Wynne government was put on hold. At least for a day.

My point, of course, is that no one is likely to get killed, violence will be kept in a verbal arena, missiles will be kept in their silos*** and life in Canada will continue to flourish.

As stated at the beginning, we are truly blessed.


* With the possible exception of Buffalo, who thought they had a lock on Mr. Babcock.

** Schwartz's Deli In Montreal has indicated that Mr. Babcock will not get to enjoy smoked meat in that hallowed venue.

*** Canadian silos only contain wheat, not missiles.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mind The Gap

The title of this week's missive may mislead. I am not arguing for a studied gaze upon a certain clothing store on a High Street or a mall, but rather something quite different, and much, much more important.

The 'gap' to which I refer is the distance between two sides, a distance that should not be there at all. Let me explain.

In a true labour negotiation, two sides are prominent -- union members and management. No gap can be seen between the two, and if the negotiation fails, one or the other succumbs. At its worst, the union is so successful that management folds, recalling a statement by General Wally Westmoreland on a Vietnam triumph, "We had to destroy that village to save it." If management is similarly victorious, workers will do the bare minimum of work, making life exceedingly difficult for management to the detriment of everyone.

It is for these reasons that negotiations are taken very seriously for both sides, and in most cases a successful compromise is reached. Most importantly of all, no third party gets hammered by being an innocent victim.

If, however, an entity should find itself, through no part of its own, caught in the gap, then that entity suffers dearly.

In certain cases, the government steps in and removes the innocent party from the gap by naming that party an 'essential service'. Fire fighters and police officers are good examples here. There is one other party that should be in this category, one more essential than any other, our children.

It is incredible that a teacher strike can, in the 21st century, still be allowed to occur with schoolchildren caught in the gap. As one noted educator has written, "Never lose sight of the fact that the child as learner is not only the centre of the educational system, but the very reason for its existence." *

Not the teacher, nor the school board nor even the government, but the child as learner. And if H.G.Wells was right when he wrote that "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe" ** then it becomes truly imperative that teaching be designated an essential service as soon as possible.



* Dr. R.W. Jackson, former Director of the Ontario Institute of Education, in Issues and Directions, Ontario Ministry of Education, 1980, p.1 -- Ed.

** H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, Ch. 40 of the 1951 edition. --Ed.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Dead Go To Court

The dead can go to court and launch a lawsuit?

Well, apparently.

I have just learned that Manitoba's highest court ruled that the family of one Robert Sinclair could sue the Manitoba health authority for a breach of charter rights and privacy rights.

The specific incident? Mr. Sinclair died after a 34 hour wait in the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, where his medical stress was not attended to. Rights related to "prior care", the responsibility of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, were  stated to be ignored.

Before this ruling, lower courts had maintained that such rights died with Mr. Sinclair in 2008. After eight months of deliberations, however, the Manitoba Court of Appeals allowed the lawsuit to proceed. This decision raises some fascinating issues, not the least of which might be the following cases. The initials D.O. stand for "descendants of".

1) D.O. Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard vs. Tudor Inc.

This suit claims damages, financial and punitive, for wrongful persecution and subsequent beheading. Written testimony from Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell will be prominent in defense of the charge.

2) D.O. Joan of Arc vs. The House of Valois

The descendants want redress and financial compensation for cruel and unlawful use of arson against Jeanne d'Arc, with a focus upon the betrayal of Charles VII by illegally turning the prosecution of the Maid of Orleans over to the English.

3) D.O. Louis Riel vs. The Queen in Right of Canada.

The descendants in this case are any Metis currently existing. Extensive financial damages are sought, along with a heartfelt apology from the Queen, and the sanctioning of a charge of racism against any descendants of John A. MacDonald.

Thus Manitoba appears to have opened an interesting door, and any further action the initial case will bear close attention. Certainly I suspect that there will be any number of people "courting the dead". So to speak.

Friday, May 1, 2015

An Unholy Sandwich

Normally, our little outings at The Three Q's pub are characterized by pints of Best Boddingtons and quiet and considered discussion, along with the occasional verbal jab or witty rejoinder. Not so last evening.

Now I had not sought to write on this topic again -- my thought are well known -- but one of our group, a dedicated schoolteacher, was obviously distraught and at one point came close to tears. The issue? A looming teacher's strike.

She introduced the topic by indicating her support for unions, ignoring my shudder. However, she went on to say that in a strike situation, this support was conditional upon there being only two actors: the union and a firm's management. Negotiations between these two would either result in a compromise that worked for the two parties, or led to the firm going out of business. This result would mean, of course, that the union would be out of business as well.

A tough situation, to be sure, but one that has been with us for some time.

Then my teacher friend made a telling point.

The union / management negotiation, she suggested, breaks down when the two sides involved trap an innocent third entity between them. In a municipal strike, that third entity is the public; in the case of a teacher strike, it is schoolchildren.

"The whole mess," she stated, "resembles a sandwich with the innocent party caught between two slices of bread. Something has gone very wrong here. Why should the public or children be cast as victims in a struggle they had nothing to do with?"

I added that this struggle could continue for some time. After all, the entity termed 'management' in this case was a combination of elected politicians and civil servant managers, and would be unlikely to state that they were folding the enterprise the way a private sector company might.

After a rather protracted and heated discussion involving several more pints, we reached a sort of agreement on the issue, at least one worthy of further exploration. This would involve binding arbitration, with three players: a negotiator selected by the union, one selected by management, and a third agreed to by both. Non-financial matters would be up for decision, and the budget for the settlement drawn from public treasury would be capped and be approved by a respected auditor prior to the negotiation.

We all deemed the process worth a try, and the approach might even work. Certainly students, parents and taxpayers would be grateful. The problem would be that to bring this about would take a degree of courage on the part of politicians.

As Charlie Brown might say, "Rats."

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Tale Of Two Budgets.

The title of this particular missive is, as astute readers (as which of you are not) will immediately recognize, honours Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. The 'two' mentioned here, however, involve the recent budgetary announcements on the part of the Canadian Federal government and the Province of Ontario.

(An aside. In this discussion, I have avoided the use of specific figures and their justifications. Were I to do so, this would turn this weekly report into an extensive tome which would take an inordinate time on my part to write, and inordinate time on your part to read. Given newspapers and the Internet, all such information is readily available.)

Now I turn to Dickens again, who is proving to be a rather sturdy prop in these writings. This from his novel, David Copperfield, the speaker being the economically sound Wilkins Micawber:

"Annual income, twenty pounds; annual expenditure, nineteen pounds and six, result happiness. Annual income, twenty pounds; annual expenditure, twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."

The Federal government appears to have recognized this principle, and have put forward a balanced budget. It must be admitted that this took time, given the fiscal hole that opened up when the 'too big to fail' institutions fell apart, sending governments worldwide into a tailspin. But achieve balance they did, and no doubt Mr. Micawber would roundly approve.

Moreover, the Federal budget seeks to return to taxpayers excess monies it does not need, in terms of higher TFSA* contributions and a relaxation of RIF* rules with respect to withdrawal amounts. It is almost as if the Feds recognize that it is not "their" money, but ours.

There is no such recognition of this in the just tabled provincial budget. Indeed, the announcement makes it all too clear that Ontario will continue for some time to live beyond its means and spend beyond its capacity. A balanced budget is a thing of the future.

And keeping Mr. Micawber's words in mind, I find that the past and present initiatives of the current Liberal government do not exactly lend confidence to the proposed balanced budget in 2017-18. Think of such wonders as the e-health fiasco, the purchase of too small Medevac helicopters, the sleazy gas plant issue, the horror story that is Ontario Hydro, well, you get the picture, along with the loss some 2.3 billion taxpayer dollars.

As another Dickensian character might put it: "Bah. Humbug."


* These explanations are given just in case a reader has been out of the country for a goodly time, or away from the planet on the good ship Oxycontin. TFSA is a tax free savings account and a RIF is a guaranteed registered income fund. A phone call to the Canadian Revenue Agency can explain their use, as can any reasonably educated banker. -- Ed.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tripping Over The Light Fantastic

It was, I believe, the poet Robert Frost who once wrote, "Isn't it funny how the Supreme Court is always right?"

Now while I would normally support Frost in his poetic endeavours, in terms of prose he is somewhat wide of the mark. There are, in fact, a number of decisions of the Supreme Court in the U.S. that stand out as being simply wrong.

The best example would be the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Mr. Scott, a black man, had sued for his freedom. After some support for this view from lower courts, the Supreme Court, under a Chief Justice known as a strong supporter of slavery, wrote a majority opinion rejecting Mr. Scott's claim.* Not the Court's finest hour.

In the modern era, the  U.S.Supreme Court proceeded to make another serious error: the Citizens United decision in 2010 that opened the floodgates for the corporations to give massive financial support to Political Action Committees to ensure a candidate's electability, whether to the Senate, the House of Representatives, or, indeed, the Presidency itself. The principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people somehow got lost in this particular shuffle.

Well, you say, that's just in the United States. Canada's Supreme Court avoids such nonsensical rulings.

Not so fast -- a recent decision trips right into the magical and fantastic. To wit, the recent decision to strike down the mandatory minimum sentence law for illegal gun possession. And it is important to note that the mandatory three and five year sentences handed down to the two individuals in the case under appeal were acknowledged by the justices to be appropriate.

Then six of the nine justices went further, and tripped right into the land of make believe by suggesting that there could be some future case where the law would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment". And since the majority couldn't find one single case to make this argument, the Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlan, entered the world of the fantastic and MADE ONE UP!

She put forward the hypothetical situation of a licenced and responsible gun owner who stores his unloaded firearm safely with ammunition nearby and then makes a mistake as to where it can be stored. She then added, "similar examples can be envisaged."


Chief Justice, I would humbly suggest that "envisaging" is one thing, interpreting the law another. Ponder this.


* Chief Justice Roger Taney, rarely cited as a beacon of  wise jurisprudence. -- Ed.

Friday, April 10, 2015

When An App Is Not Apt

I am harbouring a fugitive.

While I have in the past from time to time skipped rather lightly through the stern and forbidding halls of jurisprudence, such action was always in a Good Cause.* The present situation falls into a somewhat different category.

It involves Hester (not her real name, but a kind of homage to a certain lass who once wore a certain letter) who, aside from being a great elementary teacher, is absolutely brilliant in the field of electronics. particularly where small devices are concerned.

Indeed, while active in The Trade, there was many a time when I was grateful to possess some of Hester's devices, not the least of which was a tiny buzzy thing that, when primed and released, would fly around a room making an infernal noise and causing panic among any others in the room. Since these personages were often the Ungodly, the distraction was always enough to allow one to escape what would otherwise be a dire situation.

Something akin to that device was at the heart of Hester's current flight from justice.

Apparently she had developed an app for a smart phone that allowed the smart phone owner to do something rather weird. This is difficult to believe, but since I later determined that what Hester said happened really did happen, well...judge for yourself.

Hester's app was designed to detect voice modulation that indicated whenever a person was skirting the truth, or actually lying. When this occurred, the device would begin a low level whine that, if the lying continued, would gradually rise in volume to a powerful and extremely harsh screech that quickly proved unbearable to the human ear. (Hester informed me that dogs and cats simply passed out).

We explored this app one night at the Three Q's pub, and had a great time. Shortly after, however, Hester made a big mistake.

While chaperoning a school trip to the provincial legislature, she forgot to leave the device at home. Worse, while fetching a tissue for one of her charges, she inadvertently turned the phone on. Given the words being uttered at the legislature, it was not long before that soft whine had reached ear-piercing volume. Pandemonium reigned, all members were convinced terrorism was rampant, and a lock up was urged for the legislature.

Hester, being in charge of a now very unruly elementary class, was given a very cursory once-over, and then allowed to leave. However, there was a very good chance that when the politicians had finished solving the issue, electronic engineers  could begin to really determine what had occurred. Hester knew this, and therefore thought it best to lay low for a while. The school was informed that Hester had developed a very sore scarlet rash, having come into too close contact with a hawthorn bush and needed to use up some of her sick days. (Being a union member, she had 3672 stashed).

And as far as that device is concerned. I gave Hester an "A" for effort.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Surfeit of Slogans

Of late, I have become interested in slogans, and their effect upon policies and programs beloved of politicians. Not so much in Canada, a country which tends to stick to the issues, but in the United States, where slogans achieve real importance.

This American trait has being going on for some time. Some of the more memorable slogans are as follows. And I have avoided giving much of the "surround" to these statements. To do so would turn this missive into an overlong exposition of arcane facts, a process much better left to the reader and Google.

"Tippecanoe and Tyler too." This slogan, embedded in a song,  commemorated a military victory at Tippecanoe of William Henry Harrison, and led to Harrison becoming the ninth president of the U.S. in1840. (The Tyler reference was to John Tyler, a Whig supporter of Harrison).

"We are being crucified on a cross of gold!" This rhetorical scream was made by William Jennings Bryan in support of maintaining the gold standard in terms of currency foundation. Often quoted by any number of commentators, vast numbers of Americans nevertheless never reacted one way or the other, not really understanding what Bryan was talking about.

"Remember the Maine!" This was a heading in all Hearst newspapers and described the (very odd) sinking of a U.S. cruiser in Havana harbour in 1898. This led to war between Spain and America, and included a very special charge up San Juan hill by a certain 'roughrider' who later became president.

And slogans still matter. In 2008, Barack Obama ran a successful campaign using the phrase "Yes, we can!" Unfortunately, the Tea Party bloc of the Republican Party countered with "No, you can't!" resulting in the current trials and tribulations affecting America. 

My favourite slogan, however, was John Kennedy's cry of support in the city of Berlin during the Cold War, "Ich bin ein Berliner!" This was wonderful to behold, even if his New England accent caused the phrase to alter somewhat in meaning to give "I am a doughnut!"

But as far as Berliners were concerned, this mattered not a whit, ensuring as well that the phrase would linger long in memory.

As well it should.

Friday, March 27, 2015

This Just In

This week, three items startled, along with one truly tragic, the Alpine crash. I restrict my comments to the three that startled, rather than the fourth, an item that is beyond comprehension. At least mine -- I have been depressed as well, but felt no need to fly an airplane into a mountain.

1) This Just In --- Yemen. What startles here is not more violence in the Middle East, something all too common as various sects and tribes battle it out to promote their version of an imaginary entity, but rather doing so without really involving The Great Satan, the United States of America. Saudi Arabia (Sunni) is now openly confronting Iran (Shia) in Yemen, and neither country, aside from the odd Iranian snarl, is blaming the U.S.A. 

Food for thought.

2) This Just In --- The Wynne Government in Ontario continues to act like a deer caught in the headlights. In the Auditor General\'s 2014 Report it notes that more than 21,000 patients were supposedly given the same flu shot vaccination by both a physician and a pharmacist, with the Ministry of Health billed twice.

Then the problem was compounded by the establishment of a registry to  address the overbilling problem, but the registry itself went $85 million over budget, and the mismanagement continues to this day. (Ms Wynne is preoccupied with sexual education in schools). Ain't life under the Liberals grand?

3) This Just In --- I note that the English King, Richard III (a man in my opinion more sinned against than sinning) has finally received a proper burial. Thus his battlefield wish has now been fulfilled: "A hearse! A hearse! My kingdom for a hearse!"*

And on that note, I depart. See you next week.


* That one slipped by me. The item should never have seen daylight, but I was distracted at the time, being involved in a Twitter exchange with Amal Clooney regarding Value At Risk as it applies to international law and arms trafficking. My apologies. --Ed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Aboriginal Advance: A Two-Act Play

What follows is not my usual somewhat satirical approach to life in the 21st century, but rather an issue that has bothered me for some time.

I have written before on the sorry state of First Nations peoples in Canada, with the leitmotif in such annals being that most of the tragedies seen on reserves are self-inflicted. I am now prepared to alter that opinion.


I say somewhat in that the legislation governing the reserves where most treaty Aboriginals live, The Indian Act, sets out the parameters that tend to force certain aspects of Aboriginal life. These parameters govern the location of the reserve, the federal monies sent to the chiefs  to allow for food and clothing purchases for the members of the band and the dispersal of funds for education, housing and infrastructure purposes.

It is immediately apparent, or should be, that under the leadership of a wise and accomplished chief, this system works rather well. Unfortunately, that is all too often not the case. Of late, the well-publicized behaviour of certain chiefs illustrate case after case of aggrandizement, well-looked after cronies, and in some instances, outright theft. Such behaviour, of course, violates the intent and spirit of The Indian Act, BUT NOT ITS LEGALITY.

Hence the need for change, and I am glad to report that it is coming in the form of two legislative Acts, to wit:

Bill C-428, The Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act, legislation that received royal assent on December 17, 2014. This law does not repeal The Indian Act (unfortunate) but it does call for its eventual replacement. Moreover, it removes provisions regarding residential schools and necessitates the publication of all band bylaws, a major advance in terms of transparency.

A second step was the passage of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. It received royal assent in March, 2013, and requires band governments to post audited financial statements and salaries of chief and councillors on a public website. This, needless to say, caused howls of outrage from a few chiefs, happily ignored by the Canadian taxpayer.

I am first to admit these are but initial steps in which will be a long journey, but in terms of the terrible conditions on some reserves, these are steps worth taking.

I close with the latest example of why repealing The Indian Act must continue to be a priority. Dean Martin of the Shuswap First Nations BC averaged $536.000 per year over the last four years, all of it tax free, to conduct band business affairs for members, all 87 of them. When questioned about this, Martin replied that he was the leader of a nation of 87 people, and therefore the salary was justified. In comparison, Stephen Harper, who leads a nation of 35 million people, earned $327,000.

So Cicero: O tempora! O mores!*


* The times! The customs! -- Ed.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Different Strokes For Different Folks --- NOT!

It is usually a Good Thing to honour and support differences. Such behaviour allows for experiencing something beyond one's usual routine, and as is well known, new experiences broaden the mind. Or so it was made clear to me at last Thursday's get-together at our pub, The Three Q's.*

Not so fast, I claimed, and went on to make a slightly different case, as follows.

I first admitted that Canada was perhaps ranked up near the top (if not at the very top) where our policy of multiculturalism allows for honouring a variety of differences in terms of religion, clothing and cultural practices. Indeed, there is wide acceptance of Sikh turbans, Jewish kippahs or Muslim hijabs. Such a policy, however was not a carte blanche to EXCEED Canada's constitution, particularly when that constitution affirms that everyone is equal before the law.

This last statement appears from time to time to be ignored by some, or possibly not understood. How else can you comprehend the actions of those who refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen as Canada's Head of State, or demand to cover their face under a niquab or even a burka while making a court appearance?

These are actions that can only be termed egregious, in that they flout the principle of being equal before the law. I say egregious, in that in all other instances such as attending a cultural event or participating in religious observance in church, mosque, synagogue or temple, such actions are not only acceptable, but actually encouraged.

Not the behaviour of too many other countries, I might add.

My answer to this issue? Indicate to the person or persons objecting to Canada's expectations in this regard that if they cannot accept Canada's law in this respect, then perhaps it would be best to seek residence in a country that does not have the Queen as the Head of State or would welcome the wearing of a niquab or a burka whenever one is in a public place.

In the former instance, North Korea is one country that lacks a constitutional monarch; in the latter instance, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan come to mind.

In both cases, bye bye.


* There were a number of requests on the Q's. These have been used in prior missives: Quips, Quibbles and Quaffs. My advice --- FOCUS! -- Ed.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Gotta Use Words When I Talk To You

Until we master telepathy, we are stuck with words as the main means of communication. Yes, a fist in the face says one thing, a pat on the back another, but such actions lack nuance, in that these actions restrict themselves to a limited meaning -- I really don't care for your behaviour in the first case, and (unless dealing with cystic fibrosis) a commendation in the second case.

Words can have a variety of meanings, and can operate in a variety of situations. In the examples that follow, I should like to illustrate just how multi-faceted words are.

First, words can be dangerous. In the case of the 'fist in the face' scenario quoted above, this action was almost certainly preceded by words that got out of hand. Thus the Irish adage, "Many a man's tongue broke his nose" although I prefer a similar insight provided by Dennis Thatcher: "Whales get killed only when they spout." Then there is Neal Stephenson's observation somewhere in his Baroque Trilogy that no man is precisely safe when talking to a woman. That particular observation, however, leads to a discussion that would stray a good distance from our purpose today. Another time, perhaps.....

Secondly, precision in the use of words is a necessity. Diplomats excepted, why use them at all if your meaning is not clear and helpful to your listener or reader? Otherwise, you land up with things such as the following:

"My mother always made it clear to my sister and me that women and men were equal --- if not more so."  This from Al Gore.

"It has never been like this and now is exactly the same again." The speaker? One Viktor Chernomyrdin, former ambassador to Ukraine. (Make of that what you will.) I could also cite numerous examples from George Bush the Younger, but have not. I don't shoot fish in a barrel.

Thirdly, it is unwise to mix metaphors. All this does is confuse the reader or listener, and unless that is your intent, don't do it. As examples, I turn to the master, the eighteenth century parliamentarian Sir Boyle Roche: "While I write this letter, I have a pistol in one hand and a sword in another." And then Sir Boyle outdoes himself: "Along the untrodden paths of the future, I can see the footprints of an unseen hand."

I am in awe.

Of course, there is a need for vocabulary to help things along. Or not, as we see in this example taken from a court record:

Q. "Were you present at the inception of the altercation?"

A. "No. But I was there when the fight started."

Finally, as I leave this field and missive, I leave you with this shining example of what government can do with words. Or, in this case, a word. Thus in Germany comes the name of a law to speed up approval for building roads. A noble aim. to be sure, and we get

Auf wiedersehen, alles!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Rules Rule

I am sure that everyone has tucked away somewhere in their psyche a set of rules to live by, or, if not, they should. In any event, and for no reason in particular, these are mine.

1)  Do No Harm

Now for a person who has been in what I term "The Trade", this may seem a bit odd, given the occasional need to employ the phrase 'terminate with extreme prejudice' every now and then. For justification, I turn to that symbol of sound medicine, Hippocrates, and his famous oath that he must not do harm.*

Yet Hippocrates himself felt no remorse in attacking disease, and neither do I. In this context, I consider members of such groups as Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the like to be cancers on the body politic, particularly in the form of those most vulnerable, women and children. The removal of a cancerous tumour can save a life; the removal of a group of addled killers in the thrall of an imaginary figure leading them on can save an entire village. If I can play a small part in such elimination, I will.

2) Do Not Whine

Whining and bemoaning and bemoaning is behaviour to be avoided whenever the urge strikes. It accomplishes nothing, puts you in the dumps, and irritates the hell out of those in your company. Stop it.

3) Stay Away From Grudges

Somewhat linked to #3, this is also pointless activity, and can wreak havoc on the psyche. Avoid at all costs, and keep in mind these words from comedian Buddy Hackett (whom I have drawn on before) "Never carry a grudge. While you're carrying a grudge, the other guy is out dancing."

4) Rely On Laughter

This is the balm of my entire existence. As Victor Borge well knew, "laughter is the shortest distance between two people." And there is an added bonus to this rule: you can never go wrong when you laugh at yourself.

5) Get As Much Happiness As You Can

No explanation necessary

And a final rule, learned from bitter experience: when travelling in the American south, never ever crush the mint in a julep.


* The relevant portion of the Hippocratic oath that the good Lady is referring to is as follows, keeping in mind that my knowledge of ancient Greek is not all it should be: "As to the elimination of diseases, make a habit of two things --- to help, or at least, do no harm." -- Ed.